text and Interview: Alec Coiro
Photos Courtesy of Moving Mountains
Moving Mountains is Syrette Lew’s design studio where she creates furniture, jewelry and accessories. Named in part for the volcanic mountains of Lew’s home state of Hawaii, the mountains also form a metaphor for the dynamism of Lew’s practice–jewelry and furniture, for example, are described by Lew as opposite sides of the mountain. She also designs bags and creates custom installations (which we didn’t have time to cover in our conversation); this prodigious variety of output suggests a dynamo squeezing more hours out of a day than sleep would allow for, and yet her work, particularly her furniture, communicates a softness and sense of peace. With it’s just-soft-enough edges and the hint of playfulness, Moving Mountains is exceptionally adept at deploying a modernist understanding of materials and modern fabrication techniques without incurring any of the attendant modernist severity. The variety of Lew’s work makes it hard to pick a favorite, so we’ve included quite a selection of options. Maybe you’ll have a favorite, but we like them all.
Can you tell us a little bit about your background? How you started out and what led up to your launching Moving Mountains?
My first degree is in Economics and then I went back to school for a second bachelors degree in Industrial Design. After I graduated I got a job working full-time for a home furnishings company in NYC. While I gained a lot of experience, after 5 years I felt the need to move on and challenge myself in different ways so I started Moving Mountains. In May of 2014, I debuted my first collection of furniture at ICFF in New York and at Sight Unseen OFFSITE.
We were first introduced to your furniture at the Colony showroom, but you’re also an accomplished jewelry and accessories designer. Are these various pursuits distinct, or do you see them as part of a whole?
They’re both. Moving Mountains is literally just me so same brain, different forms of expression. They are very different though and I do feel I have more freedom with form when designing jewelry. Actually, I started doing jewelry and bags because I needed a break from furniture. Furniture can be daunting. It’s so big, takes forever and is expensive. Jewelry especially, is almost the exact opposite. It’s small, has fairly quick turnarounds and is a fraction of the cost to produce. You also don’t have to worry about it having a serious malfunction. But it’s all still Moving Mountains, just another side of the mountain I guess.
Your majestic Palmyra lamp was the piece that first caught my eye, but you’ve also created other lamps and several mirrors. How do you see light and the reflection of light as part of an interior’s design?
Lights and mirrors can make or break a room. Lights set the mood. Mirrors can be used to make a room look larger, create illusions. I think designers like to design them because they can be more sculptural and you can have fun with them. They’re the jewels of the furniture world.
Moving Mountains works with regional craftsmen and fabricators. Can you tell us a little about some of your fabrication collaborators/collaborations?
90% of the fabricators/craftsmen I use are in Brooklyn mostly out of convenience but some are in surrounding states. Some are friends, some are word of mouth referrals, a few I’ve found from looking on the internet and cold-calling. I try to keep it as local as possible as it’s easier to communicate if I can visit their shop and talk things out in person.
Generally speaking, are there particular aesthetic elements that inspire you or attract you to a piece?
Definitely. A lot of times, I’ll see a material, form, style, color or a combination of these things and get inspired and then I’ll try to recontextualize these elements into something that feels more relevant. It’s really hard for me to get more specific than that because I think it’s a moving target. We visually take in so much everyday with instagram, the internet, pinpointing gets difficult. In fact I had to take a break from Instagram because it was causing too much visual noise.